In the late 1960’s the British Veterinary Association (BVA), in conjunction with the Kennel Club (KC), started a scheme to assist dog breeders in the eradication of the inherited eye disease, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). Later the International Sheepdog Society (ISDS) also became involved because of their concerns about inherited eye diseases in Border collies. The scheme now covers more than 10 different eye conditions in over 50 breeds of dog. Today the scheme is processing around 20,000 examinations each year.
The scheme was introduced to try to reduce the numbers of pedigree dogs affected by inherited eye diseases. Although the scheme was developed to test for inherited eye disease in pedigree dogs ANY dog may be tested.
Many of the conditions covered by the eye scheme can lead to painful and/ or blinding eye conditions. Generally, dogs with hereditary eye diseases should not be used for breeding.
The scheme is updated on January 1st each year so it is important to check regularly whether new breeds or conditions have been added.
The eye test can be performed on any dog over the age of 12 weeks. It is important that the eye test is carried out prior to breeding and, because many of the eye conditions do not develop until later in life, it is recommended that actively breeding dogs are tested annually.
Litter screening of puppies is also available under the scheme. This is best performed when the puppies are between 5-8 weeks of age. The litter screening looks for evidence of congenital hereditary eye disease.
The panellists appointed by the BVA are vets who specialise in eye examinations (ophthalmologists). They are accredited on a regular basis to ensure they have the necessary experience and skills to perform the examination. Since they examine so many dogs’ eyes on a regular basis they are very familiar with all the possible appearances of eyes (whether normal or abnormal).
The BVA provides a list of contact details for vets who are qualified to do eye testing in the UK and Eire. This list can be found on the BVA and the Kennel Club websites. You can either ask your vet to make an appointment for you or you can contact the panellists directly. Alternatively, many breed societies organise eye testing sessions at dog shows. The cost of testing is fixed by the BVA and price lists can be found on their website.
You will need to attend the test with your dog and be prepared to hold them, if necessary, during the examination. The vet examining your dog will need to see your KC or ISDS owner registration documents so make sure you take these with you. You should also take along any previous eye certificates issued to your dog.
As from January 1st 2010 permanent identification (usually microchipping, although permanent tattooing is acceptable) has been required for all dogs, other than Border Collies registered with the International Sheep Dog Society (ISDS), before they can be examined and certified under the eye scheme. If your dog does not have permanent identification then it cannot undergo eye testing under the eye scheme.
The veterinary ophthalmologist who examines your dog under the eye scheme will look into your dog’s eyes with a range of ophthalmic equipment that allows them to examine in detail the structures within the eye. They may need to put some drops into your dog’s eye to make the pupil larger so that they can view the retina thoroughly. These drops take up to 30 minutes to work so you may be asked to sit and wait with your pet while the drops take effect.
In some breeds of dog that are at risk of developing glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye) the vet will do an additional test. This is called gonioscopy and involves placing a specialised lens onto the surface of the eye, following application of local anaesthetic eye drops.
The ophthalmologist will tell you the results of the examination at the time of the test and you will receive a certificate of eye examination for each dog examined. The certificate consists of three sections. The first section records the details of the dog and owner, and requires an owner signature. The second section describes any eye abnormalities noted during the examination. The third section is a list of inherited eye diseases which will be ticked as either ‘AFFECTED’ or ‘UNAFFECTED’ for those known to affect the breed under examination.
Your dog’s registration document will be stamped and signed by the ophthalmologist. You will receive a copy of the certificate and additional copies will be sent to the Kennel Club, to your own vet and a copy kept by the ophthalmologist.
You are entitled to lodge an appeal against the results of an eye examination. This must be done in writing to the BVA within 30 days of the examination. You may then take your dog, along with the certificate in question, for examination by another eye panellist (who will charge the normal fee for the eye test). If the second panellist agrees with the first, the appeal is deemed to have failed. In such a case, no further appeal is allowed. If the second panellist disagrees with the first panellist, the dog is referred to the Chief Panellist for further examination without an additional fee to the owner. The decision of the Chief Panellist is deemed final.
There are a growing number of inherited eye conditions for which DNA tests are available. An up to date list is included on the BVA website. Many of these tests can be performed on material collected on a swab from the dog’s mouth, although others require a blood sample to be taken. These tests are very helpful in breeding schemes, especially in the case of recessively inherited diseases as they are able to identify carrier dogs (ie those which do not develop the disease in question but can pass the underlying gene mutation to their offspring).
However, although these DNA tests are very accurate for detecting abnormal genes they are very specific. Each DNA test can only look for one condition whereas the eye examination covers all possible eye diseases.
Information on all the current tests is available from the BVA at www.bva.co.uk.
Further information on breed schemes is available from www.the-kennel-club.org.uk.